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Businesses look to return to Mission a year after massive fire

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Fencing is seen around a charred building after a fire ripped through Cole Hardware and surrounding businesses June 18, 2016, near 29th and Mission streets. Cole Hardware is in talks with a developer to reopen, with condos above the commercial space. (Jessica Christian/S.F. Examiner)

A year ago this week, Theresa Keane told her son to fetch pictures of his grandfather from the water-damaged building that once housed the family bar on Mission Street.

For three generations her family tended bar at the 3300 Club until a fire in a nearby building closed it down June 18, 2016. Keane said her father started working there in 1956, later purchasing the spot known to serve everyone from lawyers to plumbers.

“He got all of the pictures of my dad,” Keane said. “That’s all I wanted.”

But much more was lost in the fire on Mission and 29th streets than memories. Fifty eight people were displaced from their homes and eight businesses at least temporarily closed because of water or fire damage.

“Everything that you could possibly imagine happened in that little corner of The City,” said Keane, who can hardly stand to visit the neighborhood anymore. “That whole corner is changed now because it’s a ghost town.”

Only half of the businesses have returned after the fire, including a Mexican food place called El Gran Taco Loco that reopened in a different location earlier this month. Efforts are underway to bring the others back.

“The good news is that the anchor legacy businesses on the block want to come back,” said Supervisor Hillary Ronen, who represents the neighborhood. “I’m certainly going to do everything in my power to get them back.”

Nathaniel Owen, an associate director with Mission Economic Development Agency, has worked with some of the shop owners to get the businesses back on their feet.

“Emotionally it was really jarring,” said Owen. “Some of them had to lay off employees … There’s so much in the air when you don’t know whether you’re going to rebuild or if their landlord is going to let them rebuild.”

Owen said five businesses each received $10,000 in disaster relief funds from the Office of Economic and Workforce Development under a program launched after a deadly fire at Mission and 22nd streets in January 2015.

The funding is meant to help businesses stabilize and stay in The City, which Owen said is important so that affordable businesses are not replaced with high-end stores.

“There’s a lot of resilience with these business owners,” said Owen. “It’s really important for the community that we see these businesses revive and reopen.”

The 3300 Club, a Honduran restaurant called El Paisa, a Mexican restaurant called Playa Azul and Cole Hardware are still closed.

But Cole Hardware President Rick Karp said he is in talks with a developer to reopen on Mission Street. The chain store was the second he opened back in 1984.

“The neighborhood misses us and we miss the neighborhood tremendously,” Karp said. “It’s been a part of my life and more importantly than what it means to me is that we were a fixture of the neighborhood.”

Architect Earle Weiss has filed plans with The City to build eight condos over two stories of commercial space. Before the fire, there were seven residential units above Cole Hardware.

“We are in conversation with the property owner,” Karp said. “The retail space we’re designing with him with the intent of Cole Hardware opening.”

Ronen said she would like for Cole Hardware to reopen, but also hoped the site would be used for 100 percent affordable housing.

“It’s a sensitive site for that part of Bernal Heights,” Ronen said. “Given that rent control, low-income tenants were displaced, my hope for that entire block is that we create affordable housing to replace the affordable housing that was lost and that we create space to bring the businesses back.”

Most of the displaced tenants lived in the Graywood Hotel above the 3300 Club. The owner reportedly put the building up for sale in February, according to Mission Local, but the listing shows the property has since been taken off the market.

As for the 3300 Club, Keane said she and her family are hoping to return to the corner of 29th and Mission streets. For now, the family is stuck in a “holding pattern” until the owner decides what to do with the building, she said.

“It could have been worse,” Keane said. “We could have been some of the poor people living above in the SRO. It’s our livelihood but it could have been so much [worse].”

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated from its original version.

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